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Beyond Feelings of Inadequacy

Posted on 2021-06-13 By Joanna


Inadequacy opens the door to the vastness of possibilities. We normally define ourselves accordingly to some values and standards – if I'm this, it's good; if I'm that, it's bad. Failing on these criteria can throw us into the sea of self-doubt and not knowing who or what we truly are.

The distinct characteristic of feeling inadequate is not insecurity or lack of confidence – although we might label this state as such. It is rather, ambivalence and uncertainty about who we are and how to act accordingly to our self-concept. On the one hand, it might seem as if we are not good enough. But on the other hand, once you start asking yourself “Not good enough accordingly to what or whom?”, you will notice the limiting nature of an automatic drive of your ego, or yourself, to fit into a specific construct. It might seem as if you failed on some standard, but then it might also seem as if that standard was rather fleeting and unspecific – as it depends on a specific context and might be invalidated by an alternative standard. And so, you temporarily cease to fit in into any specific construct – you feel inadequate.

Say that you feel confident about your career. You receive regular positive feedback and witness positive results of your actions and effort. You conclude you are competent and know what you're doing. Then, you make a mistake – an angry client demands to speak to your boss, claims you failed to cater to their needs and make their life miserable. Your previously held self-construct of competence and confidence is thrown into doubt. You feel inadequate – are you competent or not? Of course, some people might ignore this situation altogether. After all, they already witnessed positive results confirming their competence, and so they choose to turn their attention away from any potential evidence demonstrating their lack of competence. What's the point of questioning it if it risks you feeling insecure. But let's say, you are not this type of person – you question yourself, others and the experiences you have. You take a risk and want to know the truth. What to do with this conflicting information on your own competence and skill?

Since questioning and doubting yourself throws you into a state of inadequacy, you end up not knowing how to label yourself and what to make of your situation. The previously held construct doesn't feel quite right anymore, but neither any other one feels comfortable. Can you feel the infinite and formless experience of just being? The discomfort comes from being used to knowing who and what you are, which is now lacking and manifests as feeling inadequate – as you can't quite fit yourself into any particular form.

For many, feeling inadequate leads to judging oneself as incompetent, not good enough, stupid or weak. That's just another example of trying to fit into a form and a construct. If I can't fit into competence, I might as well try to fit into stupidity. It can then provide me with a way out of this uncomfortable feeling of inadequacy and not knowing.

Can you see what's happening here? Your ego needs to have a form, or attach itself to some form, which you experience as self-concept and clearly defined labels. When everything goes well, these constructs are stable – you say that you're such and such person, you feel confident, you don't question the validity of this self-concept. The moment something destabilises the coherence of this mega-structure your ego build by which you define yourself, you end up feeling inadequate – you're not so sure anymore if you defined yourself accurately. And in this space of inadequacy, your ego will continue to work tirelessly to rebuild this coherence – you will try to match your self-concept with the experience and situation you are in. This will look like trying to justify your behaviour, failure or a mistake; you will look for ways to either bring back the previously held concept (e.g. I'm competent at work) or create a new one (e.g. I'm not longer competent; I never was competent). What if you resist that urge? What if you stayed in this space of inadequacy and lack of form?

For some people, this might have disastrous consequences, probably verging on a point of insanity and panic of “I don't know who I am anymore!”. For others, this movement towards formlessness can be liberating and self-expanding. A simple way to test which group you belong to is to simply stay in this space of inadequacy and observe the process of ego trying to define itself. If it's too much, if it's anxiety-provoking, or if you simply have no idea how to observe these processes – you need to build your ego first before you can observe it and eventually let it go; you need to work on a self-concept that matches the objective reality as much as possible. If you can stay in this space and observe the creative process of ego trying to define itself – great, stay with the discomfort and allow these processes to work without immersing yourself in them. Feel the ambivalence, not knowing and infinite possibilities of who you are or can be.

To learn how to observe yourself, find out about your ego processes or develop strategies to deal with inadequacy, book your free consultation with Joanna, a coaching psychologist, to get personalised help on your journey of self-expansion.

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